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Is social prescribing a remedy to chronic health problems?


Paul Hayes


11/02/2020 10:44:01 AM

A new report recommends that social prescribing be incorporated into routine healthcare throughout Australia.

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Social prescribing involves the referral of patients to non-medical activities, ranging from health and fitness programs to movie clubs and meditation.

Australia should use social prescribing to counter rising chronic health problems, according to a new report from the RACGP and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF).
 
‘At the frontline of healthcare, GPs are best placed to employ social prescribing to help improve their patients’ health and wellbeing,’ RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said.
 
‘We’ve seen this approach used successfully internationally, such as in the United Kingdom and promising trials in Canada and Singapore. It could help shift the balance to focus to prevention and early intervention for patients.
 
‘With the huge challenges we face regarding rising chronic illness, mental health issues, isolation and loneliness and the resulting costs, we urgently need to consider our approach to healthcare in Australia.
 
‘Social prescribing offers an innovative solution.’
 
Social prescribing involves the referral of patients to non-medical activities, ranging from health and fitness programs to movie clubs and meditation.
 
The new report comes after a roundtable co-hosted by the RACGP and CHF in partnership with the National Health and Medical Research Council Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, and a consultation process. It recommends that social prescribing be incorporated into routine healthcare in Australia.
 
In a survey commissioned for the initiative, 70% of GPs said they believe referring patients to community activities, groups or services helps to improve health outcomes, but most do not have links with such services.
 
Dr Nespolon said that while some GPs already employ social prescribing, more resourcing and recognition is needed to implement it in a sustainable way.
 
‘Social prescribing offers a huge opportunity to improve patient health and wellbeing and cut the costs of chronic disease, but it won’t happen unless everyone can access it,’ he said.
 
Leanne Wells, CHF Chief Executive Officer, describes social prescribing as a ‘vital development for patients’.
 
‘[It] can help to address the social determinants of health, such as low education and income, which can affect people’s health and wellbeing,’ she said.
 
‘It has become particularly important given rising rates of chronic illness, mental health issues, social isolation and loneliness, many of which cannot be treated effectively with a medical approach alone.
 
‘We need to find more effective ways to keep people out of hospital in order for our health system to remain stable.’
 
The new report includes a number of recommendations for the broader adoption of social prescribing:

  • Incorporate social prescribing into the Federal Government’s 10 Year Primary Health Care Plan, with recognition of the need for funding and implementation support to ensure a more comprehensive patient-focused health system
  • Support for ‘link workers’ to help connect patients to community services, identifying where skills already exist and developing training and qualifications where needed
  • Governments to work with local councils and peak organisations to identify community services and groups that could contribute to a social prescribing scheme
  • Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to expand health pathways to include a social prescribing pathway for patients
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